Meeting Mediocrities, Not Socrates - Poem by gershon hepner
MEETING MEDIOCRITIES, NOT SOCRATES
The choice between spending time with someone great
and spending it with mediocrities
is not given to most of us, though we may hate
not having a chance to meet Socrates.
We have to accept that the people we meet
don't come up to our expectations,
but just as we're not forced to sit at their feet
we don't give them hemlock libations.
We do, on the other hand, tend to spend lots
of energy we could conserve
not spending time meeting them, wasting our watts
on people who get on our nerves.
"But what would you do, " Socrates in his grave
might ask us, "with all of the watts you might save? "
David Owen ("The Efficiency Dilemma: If our machines use less energy will we just use them more? " The New Yorker,12/20 & 27/10) :
Britain in the middle of the nineteenth century was the world's leading military, industrial, and mercantile power. In 1865, a twenty-nine-year-old Englishman named William Stanley Jevons published a book, "The Coal Question, " in which he argued that the bonanza couldn't last. Britain's affluence and global hegemony, he wrote, depended on its endowment of coal, which the country was rapidly depleting. He added that such an outcome could not be delayed through increased "economy" in the use of coal—what we refer to today as energy efficiency. He concluded, in italics, "It is wholly a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth." Jevons might be little discussed today, except by historians of economics, if it weren't for the scholarship of another English economist, Len Brookes. During the nineteen-seventies oil crisis, Brookes argued that devising ways to produce goods with less oil—an obvious response to higher prices—would merely accommodate the new prices, causing energy consumption to be higher than it would have been if no effort to increase efficiency had been made; only later did he discover that Jevons had anticipated him by more than a century. Nowadays, this effect is usually referred to as "rebound"—or, in cases where increased consumption more than cancels out any energy savings, as "backfire." In 2000, the journal Energy Policy devoted an entire issue to rebound. It was edited by Lee Schipper. Schipper believes that the Jevons paradox has limited applicability today. Jevons wasn't wrong about nineteenth-century Britain, he said; but the young and rapidly growing industrial world that Jevons lived in no longer exists. Most economists and efficiency experts, after studying modern energy use, have come to similar conclusions. But troublesome questions have lingered, and the existence of large-scale rebound effects is not so easy to dismiss.
Discusses the history of refrigeration in relation to the Jevons Paradox. The steadily declining cost of refrigeration has made almost all elements of food production more cost-effective and energy-efficient. But there are environmental downsides. Most of the electricity that powers the world's refrigerators is generated by burning fossil fuel. Since the mid-nineteen-seventies, per-capita food waste in the United States has increased by half, so that we now throw away forty per cent of all the edible food we produce. According to a 2009 study, more than a quarter of U.S. freshwater use goes into producing food that is later discarded. Also discusses the improved efficiency of air-conditioners. In the United States, we now use roughly as much electricity to cool buildings as we did for all purposes in 1955. The problem with efficiency gains is that we inevitably reinvest them in additional consumption. Paving roads reduces rolling friction, thereby boosting miles per gallon, but it also makes distant destinations seem closer, thereby enabling people to live in sprawling, energy-gobbling subdivisions far from where they work and shop.
At the end of "The Coal Question" Jevons, who drowned in the English Channel aged 46, concluded that Britain faced a choice between "brief greatness and longer continued mediocrity." By "mediocrity" he meant "sustainability."
5/15/12 #102 30
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